Chris Eldon Lee reviews “Miracle on 34th Street – The Musical”, which is at Wolverhampton Grand Theatre until Saturday 16th November and Birmingham’s Alexandra Theatre from 5th to 7th December 2013
Does Father Christmas really exist?
Ever since the Summer of 1947 there has been irrefutable evidence that he really does…at least anyone who saw the original film of ‘Miracle on 34th Street’ knows for sure, because it’s been proven in a court of law.
Valentine Davies’s story has had many incarnations since and the one we Brits love best is Richard Attenborough’s Oscar-winning portrayal in the 1994 re-make. But there is also a Broadway musical version that’s just sledged into the West Midlands.
Written by Meredith Wilson and featuring his seasonal hit “It’s Beginning To Look a Lot Like Christmas”, it’s a cheerful, chirpy take on the tale of a New York store manage who hires a Santa Claus who might just be the real thing.
Typical of American musicals, it’s pretty, cute and corny. There are lots of other songs (which I can no longer remember) and a cheery, precocious kid – played with verve, vitality and just touch of “look at me” by young Poppy Carter. ‘Susan’ was born on December 25th, the day her dad walked out. So no wonder she and her mom (a powerful and commendable Genevieve Nicole) don’t believe in Christmas.
The musical doesn’t have the depth of emotion the films generate (I didn’t spot a single tissue) but it does have the kind of joy and warmth and clarity that makes for a rewarding family show. (The theatre was packed even for a 6.30 start).
Part of the reason to ‘believe’ is that James Murphy makes a marvellous Father Christmas. The only character to speak with an English accent, he displays a matter-of-fact inner conviction that he really is real. There are lovely touches as he corrects the order of the reindeer on a toy sleigh and sings in Dutch to a young visitor from Holland. He’s also not averse to recommending his visitors’ parents go to Macy’s competitors if the toys there are cheaper.
The climactic court scene is very sensitively handled; bearing in mind some of the audience was young enough to be free of doubt in the first place. Daniel Fletcher (as Fred, who defends Santa) cleverly managed the internal logic of the situation and the moment when he calls the prosecuting lawyer’s own son to the witness stand is a classic.
“Did you Daddy ever tell you Santa was real?” “Yes sir!”
“Does your Daddy ever lie?” “No sir!” Simples….
The underlying themes of faith and belief Valentine Davies was so keen to propagate in his original script are lost a little between the sugary songs (and the keyboard dominated accompaniment leaves a lot to be desired!). But it was one of those nights when the spirit of the show won through anyway and the audience went home happy, the front few rows brushing stage snow off their shoulders as they went.
I left thinking that a new British musical adaptation of the story – swapping Macy’s for Harrods and with superior songs – could be a real winner in the West End.
Visit www.grandtheatre.info for bookings & information about Wolverhampton’s Grand Theatre